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Consumers Are Feeling Frugal…or Are They?
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Over the past five years of the Great Recession and the anemic recovery, Americans’ frugal shopping habits seem to have become ingrained. But a new Harris poll has some interesting data that could point to a switch in outlook—and spending. What do you need to know?

First, Americans are still cutting back on some key categories. The majority say they are likely to decrease spending on eating out at restaurants (62 percent) and entertainment (59 percent) in the next six months (up from 59 percentand 55 percent, respectively, six months ago).

The majority also report frugal behavior in the past six months such as buying more generic brands (62 percent, up from 57 percent), bringing lunch to work instead of purchasing it to save money (44 percent, up from 41 percent), using refillable water bottles instead of buying bottled water (38 percent, up from 33 percent) and cutting down on dry cleaning (22 percent, up from 18 percent).

And some behaviors are holding pretty steady. About 40 percent of Americans now go to the hairstylist less often, 30 percent have cancelled magazine subscriptions and 20 percent no longer buy coffee in the morning.

But there are also some big changes afoot. At the same time they continue to cut back on small purchases and ongoing expenses like cable TV and newspapers, more Americans are reporting plans to make big-ticket purchases in the next six months. Specifically:

  • Over one-third of Americans (35 percent) say they will likely take a vacation away from home lasting longer than a week, up from 29 percent last November.
  • One-quarter (25 percent) expect to purchase a new computer.
  • Over two in ten (22 percent) anticipate moving to a different residence (up from 16 percent last November), while 8 percent expect to buy a house or condominium (up slightly from 6 percent last November);
  • 16 percent expect that they will buy or lease a new car, truck or van (up from 13 percent in 2012), while 7 percent plan to purchase a boat or recreational vehicle (up from 5 percent last November).

What gives? The growth in plans to make big purchases is especially surprising given that there’s been almost no change in the percentage who expect to have more money in the next six months (31 percent, similar to 30 percent last November) and no change in the percentage expecting to save or invest money in the next six months (50 percent).

Gallup suggests that while Americans don’t expect their incomes to rise any time soon, they’ve decided they can’t put off big purchases forever, and in order to afford them, they’re willing to keep making small adjustments in their spending and lifestyles.

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